Advanced stats size up Cowboys-Vikings matchups in event Prescott plays

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The 5-1 Dallas Cowboys will travel north to face the 3-3 Minnesota Vikings in primetime on Sunday Night Football. With both teams coming off bye weeks and getting reinforcements off injured reserve lists, this should be an exciting matchup.

The Cowboys are riding a five-game winning streak with the Vikings winning three of their last four contests. Things go out the window if Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is unable to play, but the data is what it is. Meanwhile, the upcoming schedule for Minnesota isn’t kind with the Ravens, Chargers and Packers next in line.

With the teams facing off on Halloween, this matchup features dual two-headed monsters in the rushing game, lethally accurate quarterbacks and dangerous wide receivers. Which side should feel confident and who should be afraid?

Here’s a review a some key advanced statistics to see if DVOA, ANY/A, Toxicity and EPA give the Cowboys reasons to feel confident about picking up win No. 6 on the season.

DVOA- Football Outsiders

DVOA is a metric which measures the success of each play as compared to league average using percentage points above or below average. The metric measures down, distance, field location, quarter and quality of opponent.

With DVOA, teams are looking for a higher percentage offensively and a lower percentage defensively. On offense and special teams, the objective is to perform above league average while defenses are looking to force their opponents to perform below league average.

Information via Football Outsiders.

Offensively, the Cowboys have the edge in Overall DVOA, ranking in the top 3 in two of the categories. The Vikings rank 12th overall. The largest gap between the two teams is in run DVOA with Minnesota ranking 28th. Considering the Vikings reputation with Dalvin Cook, it is a bit shocking to find them this low in the standings.

Taking a look at the quarterbacks of each team shows a slight edge for the Cowboys. Quarterback Dak Prescott ranks No. 2 among all QB’s with a DVOA of 33.8%.

Not far behind Prescott is Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins ranks No. 6 among qualified QB’s with a DVOA of 18.7%.

Defense

As a brief reminder, teams are targeting a positive number for offense and a negative number defensively.

The Vikings have the edge in overall DVOA and passing DVOA against. They ranked 6th in Overall DVOA and 3rd in passing DVOA. Their run DVOA of -6.7% is 24th overall.

The good news for the Dallas Cowboys is that their overall DVOA and passing DVOA rank in top 10. The bad news is that Minnesota ranks slightly ahead in each category. The Cowboys have the edge in run DVOA at -14.8%, 15th overall.

With Dallas winning three offensive and one defensive category and Minnesota winning the remaining two categories, Dallas has the overall edge in DVOA.

Advantage: Cowboys

ANY/A

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt, or ANY/A, is a formula which incorporates passing yardage, touchdowns, sacks and interceptions into a per-throw average. ANY/A has a direct correlation to scoring points and as such ranks third in win predictability.

Both teams have a plus ANY/A differential, however, Dallas has a large lead in ANY/A for. The Cowboys offense has combined for 8.56 ANY/A while allowing 6.3 ANY/A against for an overall differential of +2.26.

The Vikings ANY/A against is fairly close at 6.1, but their ANY/A for is quite a bit lower at 6.9 for a net differential of +.80.

The Cowboys have the edge in this metric as well but it’s worth noting that their is not a large gap between the two teams.

Advantage: Cowboys

Toxic Differential

Toxic differential is a statistic created by then Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick. Billick realized that adding the number of explosive plays an offense generates and subtracting the number of explosive plays a defense allows, then adding the turnover margin, was a key barometer of team success.

Under Billick’s formula, explosive plays are defined as passing plays over 20 yards and rushing plays over 10 yards. These figures were gathered by Sharp Football Stats.

Offense

In what has become a recurring theme, the Cowboys have an edge in offensive toxicity over the Vikings. The margin between both teams is remarkably close in each category. The Cowboys have generated a combined 54 explosive plays with seven giveaways through six games. The Vikings are fairly close with 50 explosive plays to their credit with two fewer giveaways.

Both teams rank in the top 8 in explosive pass plays and run plays with the Cowboys finishing 2nd in explosive runs and 8th in explosive passing plays and the Vikings at No. 5 in explosive runs and tied with Dallas for 8th in explosive passes. Adding up the explosive plays and subtracting the giveaways gives the final toxicity score’s for each team.

The overall score for offensive toxicity is 47-45 in favor of Dallas.

Defense

Similarly to what the offensive toxicity shows, the margin defensively is rather close as well. The Vikings have allowed a combined 36 explosive plays and the Cowboys have allowed 38. The Cowboys have limited the big runs but have been more susceptible to big passing plays than Minnesota. The Cowboys have a sizeable lead in takeaways with twice as many as the Vikings.

Using the formula above, we’ll add the the explosive plays and subtract the takeaways to get a final toxicity score. The lower toxicity total is better defensively.

The gap is fairly close but the Cowboys have the edge in generating explosive plays offensively while limiting big plays defensively.

Advantage: Cowboys

Expected Points Added-EPA

EPA measures the impact that a play has on scoring. With EPA yardage, field position, down and distance all weigh in on what the expected net points would be for the situation. As an example, a first and goal at the one-yard line would represent a higher EP-Expected Points than a third and 10 on your own 20 yard line.

EPA is the difference between the Expected Points (EP) at the beginning of the play compared to the end of the play. It measures the plays impact on the score of the game.

Success rate is a measure of how often teams get 40% of the needed yards on 1st down, 60% on 2nd down and 100% on third down or fourth down.

EPA figures gathered by rbsdm.

The Cowboys have a fairly large lead in EPA and success rate. The Cowboys overall EPA/play, rushing and passing EPA/play all rank in the top 10 with a top 4 finish in EPA/play. The difference in success rate is what immediately jumped out as me when analyzing the numbers. The Cowboys have a phenomenal success rate of 53.1%, second highest in the league. The Vikings rank 29th overall with a success rate of 42%. That’s a statistically large margin in favor of Dallas.

Rushing EPA/play also shows a significant edge for the Cowboys, bolstered by the dynamic 1-2 of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. The Vikings also have a strong combo, Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, but Cook missed time due to injury. Offensively, the Cowboys have a clean sweep here.

On the defensive side of the ball the objective is to have a negative EPA. This means that each snap would reduce the total expected points for your opponent.

Looking into the other side of the ball shows a more favorable story for Minnesota. The Vikings have the edge in passing EPA, overall EPA and success rate allowed, registering top 6 performances in each category. As good as they have been in passing EPA, they have a fairly large fall-off in rushing EPA/play.

The Cowboys aren’t far behind in passing EPA/play against and overall EPA/play with top 8 finishes in each, but trail in three of the big 4 categories. The area that Dallas has the lead is rushing EPA/play allowed.

Defensive advantage goes to Minnesota with three of four in their favor.

Overall, the Cowboys clean sweep on offensive and picking up an edge in one defensive category gives them a five to three advantage in EPA.

Advantage: Cowboys

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